Non-attendance to meaning by students is a prevalent phenomenon in school mathematics. Our goal is to investigate features of instruction that might account for this phenomenon. Drawing on a case study of two high school algebra teachers, we cite episodes from the classroom to illustrate particular teaching actions that de-emphasize meaning. We categorize these actions as pertaining to (a) purpose of new concepts, (b) distinctions in mathematics, (c) mathematical terminology, and (d) mathematical symbols. The specificity of the actions that we identify allows us to suggest several conjectures as to the impact of the teaching practices observed on student learning: that students will develop the belief that mathematics involves executing standard procedures much more than meaning and reasoning, that students will come to see mathematical definitions and results as coincidental or arbitrary, and that students’ treatment of symbols will be largely non-referential.
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